China: Communists tighten ideological grip

According to media reports Education Minister Yuan Guiren said Chinese universities must not allow books that promote Western values to be used in classes.

Portrait of Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen gate. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Portrait of Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen gate. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Questions:

1. Do you see this statement as a part of some bigger ideological struggle of the Chinese regime, or is it more just rhetoric?

2. BTW, how the regime define the Western values, anyway?

Answers:

Kerry BrownExecutive Director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney

1. Partly serious – Xi Jinping and other leaders have talked a lot about the risks of too much openess through the internet and other portals to outside ideas. And they do feel that naive following western models was a disaster in Russia and is something they want to avoid. But it is also good nationalist populist politics, showing the Chinese government is tough and strong and doesn’t need to bow down to anyone. It is also very contradictory. Look at the reports of how big an impact de Toqueville’s book on Revolution in France had in 2012. And of course the biggest paradox of all – a whole system built on imported western ideology – Marxism.

2. In the end, the Party is trying to preserve its place as the privileged sole coordinating actor in society to which all others are beholden. So whatever it sees as a threat to this it paints as western and bad.

Maria RepnikovaPostdoctoral Fellow, Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication, University of Pennsylvania

1. Yes, the recent statement is part of a larger ideological campaign aimed at tightening public allegiance to the regime at universities, media and other institutions. The recent statement is just one manifestation of that. However, as with many such grand statements, their actual implementation remains ambiguous. Many textbooks at universities touch on Western values indirectly, so it’s unclear how such regulation would be applied given the difficulty of overseeing and scanning all these various teaching materials that emerged in the past 30 years.

2. They don’t have a one type of definition, but under Xi these values tend to encompass freedom of press, democracy, civil society, amongst other ‘usual suspects.’ They are linked to some form of democratic processes as understood in liberal democracies.

Nathan K. H. LiuAssociate Professor, Ming Chuan University

1. Yes, I think this is part of a bigger movement aiming at tightening up ideological control. Blocking Google mail is also part of this movement.

2. Western values obviously refers to concepts related to democracy. Make sure that Communist party is in control of the country is their most important goal.

David GoodmanHead, China Studies, Sociology, Nanjing University, Professor of Chinese Politics, University of Sydney

1. Yes. It is very definitely part of  a Party-state driven ideological campaign designed ostensibly to ensure control of universities. There has been a more far-reaching Party-state decision recently circulated that seeks greater ideological control of universities. Less clear is what the content of the campaign will be.

Colin Mackerras, Emeritus Professor, International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith University

1. I do think that Xi Jinping has tried to tighten things ideologically. I have personally been struck by how little younger Chinese students know or care about China’s revolutionary history, let alone the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. I think he wants to reverse the trend towards caring most about money as he thinks the long-term implication of that would be the overthrow of the Party. I think it’s probably convenient to put such matters in the category of “Western values”.

2. What are “Western values” anyway. The reports I’ve seen about Yuan Guiren’s speech suggest the main Western values he’s referring to are attacks on or defamation of Party leader and discrediting socialism. They are the ones he mentions specifically. Actually, in my experience teachers wouldn’t do that in China anyway, though they certainly don’t hesitate to do so in the West. So I don’t think Yuan’s comments are too radical a departure from the past. Perhaps he also means things like attacking China and its experience on human rights grounds. Of course “Western values” could include very big concepts like freedom and democracy, but I think he’s being more specific in his particular comments.

Overall, I’m not inclined to see Yuan’s speech as a radical departure from the past, so from that point of view I think your suggestion of “rhetoric” has a lot going for it. But I do think there has been a trend towards ideological tightening over the past couple of years. It’s not remotely like the kind of ideological tightening that was found under Mao, especially during the Cultural Revolution.

2. Presumably anything it doesn’t like. Especially since Communism is self evidently a Western value. Less clear is what it means long term.

Vincent Wei-cheng WangProfessor, Department of Political Science, University of Richmond

Minister Yuan’s directive continues the government’s attempt to restrict freedoms of expression. Last year a state directive prohibits 7 or 8 topics to be discussed by professors. It also belies what “the China Dream,” promoted by the Xi regime, is and is not. It is to be a “dream” (or vision) drawn up and led by the CCP for national power and strength (dubbed “national rejuvenation”) that does not allow any “deviant” thoughts that could be seen as challenge to the party. Western-style of multi-party democracy or press freedom would constitute such threats. Xi, who has a Ph.D. in Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thoughts, especially understands the importance of shoring up continued one-party rule with ideological redefinition. This would not be just rhetoric, as a number of professors accused of propagating Western-style democracy and freedoms have been punished. Whether this campaign will be pursued with the same zeal as Xi’s anti-corruption campaign remains to be seen.

Dali Yang, Professor of Political Science, Faculty Director, Center in Beijing, University of Chicago

1. It’s the minster’s comments in response to an official document on strengthening ideological work on university campuses.

2. His comments have caused an uproar since the CCP also adheres to Marxism, itself from the west. This is a sign of the political and ideological tensions that exist in China today.

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